"Now and for the foreseeable future, virtually everything involving Britney is a big deal. That doesn't mean every rumor makes it on the wire. But it does mean that we want to pay attention to what others are reporting and seek to confirm those stories that WE feel warrant the wire. And when we determine that we'll write something, we must expedite it."
The above memo was issued a couple weeks ago by Frank S. Baker, the Associated Press' assistant bureau chief in Los Angeles. It says about all you need to know about the sorry state of American journalism. The line between what's entertainment and what's news is gettier fuzzier than Paris Hilton's poodle.
And it's not just happening at those media outlets that specialize in this weird meld. Even formerly serious news websites are adding "entertainment" sections. I just checked the Huffington Post and learned, for example, that Britney spoke in a British accent at her child custody hearing, and that human trainwreck Amy Winehouse was recently seen running down the street clutching packets of McDonald's chicken nugget sauce. News you can use, my friends!
This cult of personality worship bleeds inevitably into more important subjects, such as politics. A brief emotional sniff by Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire is analyzed for days, in a way that her eductional proposals never will be. Barack Obama's "I said, they said" feud with the Clintons nets more attention from pundits than his position on the Iraq war. Mitt Romney's spat with a reporter gets more coverage in two days than his immigration policy has gotten in the entire campaign so far.
As our major "news" organizations continue this apparently unstoppable transition from an industry devoted to providing important information to an industry devoted to ratings and media megacorporation bottom lines, we consumers must become ever more resourceful. The Web has a million channels. Keep surfing. Keep reading. We are now our own editors.
And in other news: Props to The Commercial Appeal, whose circulation department promptly solved the billing and delivery problem I bitched about two weeks ago in this space.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."